By Trina Bianchi, Contributor

As a town, does Charlotte have a culture that says NO to change?
As a town, what can we do to foster community connections?
As a town, how have the demographics of Charlotte changed over the past 10 years?
As a town, how do we function when faced with disagreements or challenges?

We discussed these questions and more in the last community conversation based on the final section of the Resilience Survey, the results of which you can in the chart. Hosted by Margaret Woodruff, the director of the Charlotte Library, discussion centered on the fact that a relatively large percentage of the respondents felt that the level of civic engagement in our town was not resilient, that the level of engagement was low.

Noting that our town is diverse demographically, with no “main street” where people congregate on a regular basis, the conversation ranged from ways of reaching people, to where do people in Charlotte meet—or where could they meet—to how open people in town are to new ideas and change.

With The Charlotte News, The Citizen and The Charlotte Bridge, our town is fortunate to have multiple avenues for written, transparent communication. Our Front Porch Forum is very active with a lot of folks commenting on or discussing current issues, which would indicate that residents are concerned and willing to voice an opinion.

It was noted that, although some issues can get relatively contentious, somehow, at some level, the Vermont value of watching out for each other seems to transcend the fact that people may be on opposite sides of an issue; they can still reach out and be kind when adversity strikes. I know that this basic Vermont sense of community played a large part in why we, as a state, came through the COVID crisis better than many other parts of the country. It was our sense of community and taking care of each other that led us to respect the mask mandate from the onset. I know I was pretty proud of that!

Conversation evolved from fostering connections within our town, to looking at how town events could be changed or tweaked to increase participation and provide opportunities for organizations to promote their missions, to looking at places in Charlotte that could serve as “hubs” for gatherings. Other than the library and perhaps the post office, most gatherings in Charlotte are private ones in people’s homes. The recent Grange on the Green event, which was a collaboration between the library and the Grange held on the Town Green, was cited as a “town event,” with people of all ages, from young children to senior citizens, attending. The original Town Party, also held on the Town Green in conjunction with the library book sale, was also mentioned as being another way to bring people together, as well as an opportunity for town committees and commissions to showcase their activities. The Town Beach was also noted as a gathering place for recreational events for all.

Much discussion ensued around creating a list of buildings in town that could be used for public or private gatherings—from the library to the Grange Hall to the Senior Center to perhaps the Old Lantern and the halls at the two local churches. We discussed the importance of fostering connections among the various organizations, committees and commissions in town, how to initiate those connections, and how to effectively reach out to people, with numerous ideas being shared.

The group acknowledged the fact that, while it would be wonderful if more people were actively involved in our community by joining town committees, commissions or organizations, the reality is that only a very small percentage of folks choose to dedicate time and energy in a public, very active volunteer role. The challenge is how to encourage more people to participate at a level requiring less time and energy but with the distinct possibility of creating a more cohesive and resilient town.

Charlotte Community Partners now is back at the drawing board and will take the results from all the community conversations on the survey and create a report that will then be distributed to the various committees, commissions and organizations in town. Stay tuned!